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The Science Behind Why Music Makes Us Feel So Good

The Science Behind Why Music Makes Us Feel So Good

Music plays an important role in our lives. Our coming of age is marked by a personal soundtrack and we can evoke vivid memories and emotions by listening to music. People who make music can attest to this further and are said to have high levels of intelligence, especially if they can read and create original music by playing a variety of musical instruments or using their voice as an instrument in song. There is a lot of research about music and its relationship to intelligence.

If you have ever been moved by a piece of music or experienced a life changing live musical performance; if you’ve created music or have found solace in playing an instrument or listening to your favorite artist, you will be interested in the science behind why music makes us feel so good.

Enjoying music is unique to humans. Unlike food or sex, music isn’t necessary for our survival, but it is extremely rewarding and pleasurable. It taps into the same parts of the brain that pleasure from sex and food does. Music floods the brain with a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain associated with pleasure, motivation and reward.

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Studies have shown that certain pieces of classical music will have the same effect on everyone. They trigger the same changes in the brain regardless of past musical experience or preference. Of course everyone is different and music will make us respond according to our own taste and familiarity. Our enjoyment is simply determined by whether or not we like it. However these investigations have shown that some music will cause our brains to respond unanimously and gives people a universal experience, especially when being enjoyed simultaneously like at an orchestral concert.

Neuroscientists Dr Valorie Salimpoor and Dr Robert Zatorre conducted research using PET scans (positron emission tomography) to detect the release of dopamine in the brain when subjects listened to their favorite songs. They later used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to view the pleasure center of the brain where the dopamine is released and then mapped out its connection with other areas of the brain associated with emotion, learning, memory and decision making. It was these connections that were the most interesting revelation.

The pleasure center of the brain predicts what king of music we will enjoy based on the connection it makes to other parts of our brain, according to what our brain is ‘programmed’ to like.

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“It predicts the reward that you’ll feel from a given piece of music based on similar types of music you’ve heard before. If you like it better than predicted, it registers as intense pleasure. If you feel worse than predicted, you feel bored or disappointed.” Virginia Hughes, National Geographic

New music fits into patterns already mapped out in the brain by our past musical tastes. It is pleasurable not only because it is familiar, but it deviates just enough to feel new and exciting. It doesn’t seem repetitive.

Music therefore can be used as a mood enhancer or elevator. For the brokenhearted, a sad song is empathetic and validating. It is an elixir of motivation to compel the completion of the most mundane of tasks. There are many ways to participate in and utilize music and broadening musical experience and taste can become a journey of self discovery, for like any art form, in music we see our humanity.

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There are several ways to participate in music on a daily basis.

Listen to it.

Put on the radio, get out your old records, plug in your device. Whatever you are doing, music can be present in the background or the foreground. For example; listen to something energetic while you wash the car. Some classical music playing softly in the background is a great compliment to reading or studying.

Make it.

Play an instrument. If you don’t know how, improvise or better still, learn. It is never too late and even without formal music reading education and training, anyone can tune into their own musicality and learn the intricacies of an instrument. Try a simple percussion instrument like a bongo or tambourine if you have rhythm or something more complicated like the piano or guitar with formal lessons. And sing. Sing your heart out. In the shower or the car, to your children. Do karaoke, make up songs and sing along to the ones you know and love. Singing is a fantastic stress reliever and can be meditative too.

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Understand it.

Learn to read and understand music, the composition of a song, melody, lyric writing, different styles – the list is endless. Exploring music can be determined by your own personal interests. Maybe music history is your forte, or indulging in the classics. Read the biographies of your favorite musicians or artists, they are always extremely fascinating.

Go global.

Find out about musical styles and instruments from around the world and try and witness them. Music is a wonderful way to learn about a culture while you are traveling. Make an effort to see a traditional show or concert every time you are abroad and broaden your musical horizons.

Music makes us feel so good and the benefits of music are many. It calms and soothes us when we are anxious or sad. It motivates and energizes us when we need incentive. It’s a great tool for distraction and redirecting our focus. It educates us and opens our minds to the common human experience, our history and our hope for the future.

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Diane Koopman

Writer, Author, Novelist, Self-Publisher

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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